- Associated Press - Friday, July 17, 2020

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday tweaked Michigan’s tougher order to wear masks in public, clarifying that they are not required while voting and telling businesses they cannot assume people who enter without a face covering are covered by exceptions.

The changes came a week after the Democratic governor updated her mask rule to add a maximum $500 fine and require businesses to refuse entry to those without a face covering.

Businesses may not assume maskless customers are exempt but can “accept a customer’s verbal representation that they are not wearing a face covering because they fall within a specified exception,” according to the order. That could include being unable to medically tolerate a mask, for instance.

Stores had raised concerns about trying to determine the validity of an exemption.

The order also specifically exempts mask wearing for the purposes of voting at a polling place, though it is “strongly encouraged.” The latest measure continues to state that it does not curtail constitutional protections - such as voting - but Whitmer said the change provides clarity. Michigan’s primary is Aug. 4.

The governor also tightened an exemption for law enforcement officers, firefighters and paramedics - saying they must wear a mask unless it would “seriously interfere” with their job.

Meegan Holland, spokeswoman for the Michigan Retailers Association, said Whitmer’s revision “certainly foists retailers into more of an enforcement role, which we’ve expressed concern about all along. Sales associates aren’t trained and certainly not paid to confront belligerent, and potentially dangerous customers.”

She said she expects to see more businesses make a friendly offer of a mask to unmasked patrons “rather than turning it into a confrontation.”

The state Department of Civil Rights said businesses must enforce the rule for everyone and can do so while complying with disabilities laws. They can offer to shop for the customer, for instance, or provide a face shield.

Those eating or drinking while seated at a restaurant remain exempt from the requirement to wear a face covering in enclosed public spaces and in crowded outdoor places. So too do people who are exercising, officiating a religious service, communicating with the hearing-impaired, giving a speech or receiving a service for which the temporary removal of a face covering is necessary.

The state on Friday reported 660 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and seven related deaths, raising Michigan’s death toll to 6,355. The Grand Rapids region continued to be the only area deemed as “high risk,” with more than 50 cases per million people per day on average.

Michigan’s seven-day average of cases has also risen, hitting 682 as of Wednesday, which was up from 384 over the seven days that ended July 2. Meanwhile, deaths and hospitalizations continued to hold steady, according to an Associated Press analysis of data compiled by The COVID Tracking Project.

Whitmer has warned that schools may not be allowed to open for in-person instruction if the trajectory continues. The Michigan High School Athletic Association said Friday that fall sports will start on time. But it outlined contingency plans under which the start of practices and games could be delayed and higher-risk sports might be postponed under later.


Follow all of AP’s coronavirus coverage at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak


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